Do a search for keyword research and you’ll find a thousand articles talking about Google’s Keyword planner or a variety of paid tools like Ahrefs and Moz.
There are a couple unavoidable drawbacks to relying on these tools, though. In today’s post we’re going to look at the reasons why that is, and some alternative tricks you can try.
First, the drawbacks to traditional keyword research.
Several years ago Google stopped providing exact/specific numbers for its keywords in the Keyword Planner tool a lot of people use. It now shows ranges, from which you can still glean some ideas from. But it’s often pretty vague.
A range of 100-1000 isn’t very useful, for instance, since it could be 126 or 997 and that obviously makes a difference.
Going outside of Google’s Keyword Planner and using paid tools isn’t ideal, either, because those tools are using their own crawlers and algorithms to estimate search volumes. But that’s all it is: an estimate.
The guys at Income School cleverly point this out in an informative video on this topic (below), noting that in some cases these keyword tools estimated a couple hundred searches for month but a post optimized for that same keyword ended up getting thousands of hits per month from organic search.
In cases like that, the paid tool estimates aren’t just slightly off; they’re way off.
As they point out, if they’d avoided optimizing for certain keywords based on the info the tools gave them, they’d have left a lot of opportunity on the table by avoiding things that people really were searching for.
And of course, none of these tools give you accurate numbers for localized searches. The numbers you’re getting are theoretically nationwide, which may or may not be useful to you if you’re only looking to rank in your own city and don’t know what the search volume in that area looks like.
Sure, a keyword with much higher search volume than others would theoretically also have higher local volume as well, so it still gives you some general context. But you aren’t necessarily working with reliable numbers.
However, rather than seeing that in a frustrating light we can interpret it another way. Keep reading.
Manual methods to get the insights straight from Google, even if it won’t give you numbers.
So the upside of the previous point about keyword tools not giving you accurate numbers is this: alternative methods that don’t give you numbers at all are comparatively not so scary.
It’s like making a leap without a safety net, or at least it might feel that way.
But my own experience has been consistent with what the guys at Income School mention, which is that using these methods even when you don’t have specific numbers gets you measurably more traffic.
All of these alternative methods involve paying attention to the information Google is already telling you. These might seem basic, but using them cleverly does work.
1. “People also search for…”
You’ve probably seen this section in your own Google searches. This is a great clue for keyword queries to target because by even showing this section in the SERPs Google is telling you it already acknowledges a meaningful connection with these questions to what you searched for.
This is a clue that pages that contain these types of questions and answers will be more relevant for the search you just performed.
That’s helpful because we always want to avoid using the same keyword phrasing over and over, but we now know we can incorporate these kinds of related questions that will reinforce the main keyword (or question).
Also note… While you’re looking at the SERPs, if you see that top-ranking content uses related but different phrasing than you searched for, and that difference is consistent in several of the results, it can also clue you in that the phrasing you used is less common than how the ranked material worded it. You may want to optimize instead for how the content that’s already ranking worded it.
2. “Related searches” suggestions
Similar concept to the above point. Do a manual search for a keyword query you’d like to rank for, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, and observe the search suggestions given there.
This is another way Google is telling us what similar content it considers topically relevant to our search. This data comes from Google’s own metrics. Even though they don’t show us numbers, we can tell that these related suggestions are good ideas because they’re based on Google’s own picks.
For example, when I search for “dog leashes for sale” I see related suggestions like the following:
- Dog harness
- Dog leash retractable
- Dog leash types
- Dog leash rope
- Flexi dog leash
If I wanted to rank for searches related to selling dog leashes, this is valuable insight into other things people search for when trying to buy leashes. Does my content talk about these things? If it doesn’t, I now have ideas for edits.
3. Using Wiki outlines for related topics
If the topic you’re planning to write about has a Wikipedia (or other Wiki) page, head over there and have a look at the page’s table of contents. This is essentially an outline for all the page’s content, broken into modules or parts.
Usually the idea for a Wiki page is to provide a thorough overview of that topic by covering various aspects of it. There’s a reason Wikipedia ranks so well (aside that it’s one of the most viewed website in the world and has tons of authority) and that’s it’s breadth of related and reinforcing subtopics.
For instance, if I look up “physical therapy” on Wikipedia, that main page features these as specialty areas:
- Women’s health
And so on. If your business was related to physical therapy, any of these subtopics that you indeed offer would be important to include to be seen as a comprehensive and authoritative source of information.
That’s true whether you include all of them on one page with subheadings (like Wikipedia does) or if you break the topics down into pages or blog posts of their own.
You can also use a similar tactic to what we did on Google, which is to scroll down to the end of a Wikipedia article and review the “See also” section. Not all of what’s down there will be applicable, but it may give you some additional ideas of things people commonly want to know related to your core keyword.
4. Reviewing Google Search Console’s “Performance” Tab For Ideas
This section will show search queries your site has appeared in, whether or not people clicked on your site. This data is valuable because we can glean two things from it:
- If we see we got a lot of impressions for a query but very few clicks, we either need to rank better or need to have more alluring titles. This guides our tweaks.
- If we have a lot of impressions for a query but have a poor average ranking for it, that’s an opportunity.
It’s generally easier to improve a page on your site that already ranks for related searches than it is to make a brand new page and target a brand new keyword.
If you have a viable query in Search Console that you have a lot of impressions for, Google is already telling you it sees that your site has some legitimacy for it. I’ve had success with grabbing a couple of these from the Performance tab and either improving existing content about it or writing new content about it, and have gotten some quick wins this way.
Same goes for improving the titles for that content. You’re already showing up in searches, so tweaking the content’s title to be more click-worthy is a change you can make to see immediate benefits.
This is a method of getting info straight from Google that DOES give us numbers. Since we can see the number of impressions, that tells us how many times people have searched for that topic and our site showed up in those results. It may not be exactly how many total searches performed period, but it’s certainly how many opportunities our site had.